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Monday, 27 June 2011

I haven't commented much on what was a long term bugbear of mine, namely the pedestrianisation of part of our barrio. I walk through it every day and the workmen seem to be doing a grand job but it isn't without the usual complaints from the bar owners who were dreading the financial mess they would find themselves in as if the work to improve this area was only going to affect them and their pockets. I have heard people mutter and complain as they pick their way through the work in progress but I must add that said work with all its dust, drilling and inconvenience hasn't put folk off from dining and drinking out. The place is heaving and I even found myself with H having a vermouth while a man sawed into concrete and sent a cloud of dust into the atmosphere just to keep in the spirit of things I guess.

Meanwhile, that other bone of contention, the Palacio de Congresos is in the news again. The builders are after more money, a quarter of a million, or is it half? Who cares? it was going to cost 15 million but in the end it is something like 35 million or as the paper ended the article on this white elephant the other day, hasta ahora.

On the subject of bete noirs, poor old Mr C hasn't left the bulding for quite sometime now. His wife still goes on the piss and seems to be revelling in his downfall with her coming back drunk three times a day and giving him more hell than she ever did when he was drunk wit her. She has been screaming that her life is an infierno and repeats this and other disastrous aspects of her life over and over again and now he can't drink and has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's she seems to be either losing it or getting her kicks from his non responsive behaviour. I have seen him on the balcony several times eating bananas and the street below is littered with the blackened skins driven into the road by the passing cars. Yesterday we managed to get the number of one of his brothers as something needs to be done about these two as they gradually lose it completely . Nine years of letting the police, social services, the courts and Lord knows who else know of the situation has done nothing to help this couple as they surge along the road to hell.

LOS FATOS

Very few foreigners here will have spent time in a fato's home as a guest. Some may even have that privilege of being invited, once, to a dinner but it won't be repeated. It's not that you have done something to offend your host and of course there are exceptions but invariably unless it concerns their family and very close friends ( there is often no other type here) a  fato will not feel the need to entertain you in his home. There is another reason which is of course that the Spanish live outside, so there is often no need to go to anyone's house. You meet in the bar or a restaurant and take it from there. The British have the awful weather and the Georgians to thank for home entertaining and a chance to show off their home furnishings and DIY skills. I have had the strange experience of being 'shown round' many fatos'  homes and to this day I am not sure what it is about. It isn't the house warming situation either and my most memorable was being dragged off the street by a woman I knew as the cleaner cum nanny of a young pupil who insisted I follow her to her home of which she then proceeded to take me on a tour. It was probably to do with a feeling of inadequacy on her part, that she didn't want me to go to my grave thinking she was just a humble housekeeper who didn't live in as big a house as her employer who was also her neighbour. It does have a tinge of the Violet Bouquet character in Keeping up Appearances.

Over the ten years we have been here I have had the opportunity to get inside the homes of the Spanish via teaching. It is a great insight as you get to see and meet all sorts of folk not just the fatos. One thing that struck me from the beginning is the lack of books. I grew up surrounded by books and my mother's house is still full of them and all of them read, not on show. Likewise, all my friends and people I came into contact with back in Britain had books so it was something quite strange at first. The only books I have seen in Spanish homes are complete sets of encyclopedias and reference books depending on the students professsion, law books and medicine being the most prevalent. Another observance is the tendency to not switch on lights which makes me think that psychologically they like to be kept in the dark. As the class progresses and night draws in I often have to ask the student if he or she doesn't mind switching on a lamp. It always reminds me of the anecdote of Samuel Becket refusing to turn the light on supposedly to get rid of some unwanted guests. Likewise, you don't want to turn up at a Spanish home during the siesta, especially in the height of summer. Most children wouldn't dream of taking a siesta as it is wasting their life according to some I have asked, and therefore their parents decide it is a good idea to have them taught at this time. Entering a house around three in the stinking heat with all the shutters down and inhabited by people who want to rest and are averse to switching on lights is still a strange intrusive moment for me.

MUCHA ENVIDIA

I'm told that this small town is the biggest user of Facebook in Spain and I can believe it. Most folk here are quite happy to not block access to their page as that is the whole point, they want the whole world to see their wedding, communion, parties and other shindigs as this town is famous for being full of 'fatos', fatuous folk who think they are sophisticated and who need to be the best but are really quite the opposite. So now not only are they feeling inadequate on the street when their friends comment on their clothes and holiday choices they can top it up while they bitch about one another in the so-called privacy of their home. Being a foreigner somehow excludes me from a lot of this maybe because they are not sure how things are done outside their microscopic world, but anthropologically it is fascinating because it is so condensed. It is a beastlike thing this envidia, existing in all parts of the world but H tells me he has never encountered it like this before. I do think this has something to do with forty years of fascism and therefore isolation and the feeling of inadequacy that this brings and the sense of 'missing out', but also the last twenty years of folk lining their pockets and neglecting their duties has led people to care even less about the important things that make urban life bearable. However, I am told that the fatos reigned long before Franco could take some of the blame, with several interesting stories, my favourite being the big lottery win here sometime before the civil war. I need to investigate this story to get to the truth but it seems this lotto win led to the construction of mansions alongside the park. I have often wondered while wandering past these lovely buildings how they got to be and it seems the lottery winners blew it on building the biggest and finest houses in what was and still is a humble, agricultural village with delusions of grandeur. There are about ten of these mansions and are now either crumbling or being renewed and one is a residencia for old folk, another the offices of the CCOO, a union here and one that I have been in on several occasions, the Institute of Aragonese Studies.

It's that time of year when we are needed at the summer camps. The parents and children arrive from all over Spain and that is when you realise that fatos are indeed from round 'ere. It reminds me of Basil Fawlty and his 'better class' of guest. I suppose it is a choice then of being a fato or a pijo. I've been told that because Spain never really had a middle class as we know it there will always be this gulf between folk but the class thing is an English obsession and too long to go into now. Fato, pijo or 'normal' at least the Spanish eat sitting down and with a napkin and knife and fork. I have August to look forward to, the annual return to the motherland and all it entails and as insufferable as they are, the fatos know how to do food. They may promenade as if they are permanently dressed for a wedding but I am not looking forward to the sights that await me back in Britain. The two girls tucking into a bucket of tiramisu and profiteroles at the pub that does two meals for a tenner will haunt me for some time.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

IF I HAD A HAMMER

In response to the above conditional I would probably join in with the rest of the DIY enthusiasts the fine weather seems to bring with it. As soon as summer arrives and windows are left open, Spanish men turn up in their hordes with a tool box.This morning I was woken up by a man making repetitive noises with said tool above. He made it sound both productive and non-productive at the same time. I think the Spanish flag should be changed and a hammer could nestle in the corner somewhere as a symbol of what the place is really like. Across the road I have been fascinated with the latest use for cement too. I watched agog at some men who decided it was time to drill into a concrete floor to see if there was anything underneath. This started at the un-Christian hour of eight o'clock in the morning when it is legal to start making noise but everyone is either still in bed or working in an office somewhere out of earshot. Nevertheless it brought the usual gaggle of old geezers with hands behind their backs waiting expectantly for God knows what to appear. I was expecting a Fred West scenario but it turned out to be some type of tank, maybe water but I couldn't help thinking it might be gas and we would have a disaster on our hands as the men scratched their heads and ordered a cement truck. This truck also held me in a trance with its white and red stripes revolving around beneath my balcony. I thought it was an earthquake as it rolled up and parked right in front of the garage. Men then started behaving as you do on building sites, this one being the road, and drove up and down sloshing cement everywhere and quite a nice job they did of it and I guess it will be fine for another six months when they will have to dig it up again. I'm sure they know what they are doing. My favourite hammer story still stands, with H investigating an unearthly noise throughout the block we were then living in and finding a man making indentations in some wet cement up a wall. Later our Ecuatorian neighbours decided to put on that dreaded music of theirs which sounds like a hammer hitting a cowbell.

I realise why most Spanish people like to say that foreigners who speak Spanish speak it terribly. It's because they, the Spanish, are still at that level you find in places in England where white British folk still think it's funny to laugh at accents. They are at what I call the Benny Hill stage of immigration and you can see the look of annoyance that you seem to be deliberately and violently killing their language by misusing the feminine and masculine or are unable to roll your R's. This brings me to the Muslim woman H saw shouting at a Spanish woman the other day after the Spanish woman had muttered some insult or other as she passed the other who was struggling on the pavement to put some things in her shopping trolley. The Muslim woman shouted after the other in perfect Spanish but alas like the rest of us with an 'accent' and H heard her shout 'forty years of fascism and you still haven't learnt anything!!' as the other woman hurried on up the road. All the old ladies from the house a few doors down which masquerades as a hairdresser's came rushing out and did that thing that Spanish people often do when they realise they have offended you big time and tried to smother the Muslim woman with 'sorries' and 'calm down dearies'. H said the Muslim woman reacted just like me under such circumstances and duress and basically told them all to 'que te den'. Language is supposed to be a tool to make you feel 'at home' anywhere but it takes more than that to survive here. Nerves of steel, a tool box and a lot of cement.

DRUGS ARE THE OPIUM OF THE MASSES

Since living here I have always felt I am spending a lot of money on drugs, the legal kind. So far, I seem to have avoided the culture here of doping everyone up to the eyeballs in the hope they don't go on the rampage. Every day I pass people who look shockingly drugged and I wonder what on earth happened to them. There seems to be so many mental health problems and I often see women walking around like zombies. I have met quite a few Spanish women who are fucked up but for reasons I can not relate too. The longest experiment with fascism appears to still hold sway. Apart from anti-depressants I also see a lot of money spent on neck braces and walking sticks. H thinks most of them are putting it on and today I saw a woman who lives in my road and half an hour later she was wearing one of those things and again I found myself thinking 'what the hell happened man??' In Britain I would probably go to Boot's or Superdrug for medicines and creams but these types of shops don't exist here and you can't buy medicines from supermarkets. I was recommended a cream for mosquito bites the other day and came out 12 euros poorer from a chemist who was probably away at one of the mountain spas with my money. The health food shops are a complete rip off too when it comes to buying vitamins and minerals. I buy alternatives and 'erbs from a great place in London on the Walworth Road called Baldwins and they are much cheaper and not so addictive. Apart from paracetemol which you can get for about 20p in England I am going to try and avoid the chemist here as just going in one makes me feel I ought to be buying something. Things like witch hazel and calamine lotion don't seem to exist and a simple aqueous cream you can buy for a pound in Britain was offered to me for twenty euros as the chemist said he could 'make' it for me. There is evidence of this as Aragon spends 290.65 per person on pharmaceuticals. The old fashioned remedies are proving to be best with me and a cup of tea and a chat with a good pal is often all that's needed before things get out of hand.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

IT'S A SAD AND BEAUTIFUL WORLD

Nobody can tell me why no one has shot Fred Goodwin and no one can tell my why no one shoots Ignacio Galan chairman of Scottish Power who had his salary doubled to 10.5 million just before bills where put up from 175 quid to 1,400, shurely that is some mishtake? Someone was pissed? Maybe when he dies he will reincarnate as a dog and get stoned.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

SEASON OF FRUITS AND LAZINESS

Things have been a bit calm since the uprising amongst the natives in Bar Rugaca. Ever since I plied them with ideas, you know, made them think twice as opposed to never. Probably the most exciting thing to happen since opening and closing a door loudly. On the subject of noise and rabble rousers, in place of Piti we now have the phantom hammer. I can't work out where it is coming from in order to go and give the owner a mouthful and an ear pressed to the wall only distorts its origin.

Last weekend proved to be a great one with lunch at the Tomate Jamon and nipping down to Bolea for the cherry festival. The cherries here are the best I have ever tasted and so we stocked up and I even bought a horde of garlic from a gypsy who knocked one euro off the price especially for me he reckoned. Our friend Puig gave us a lift and we managed to stink her car out with the garlic and now it is stinking out our trastero and doing a good job of keeping the vampires away and the heart in good nick. We also bought goats' cheese and some deer sausage. We saw some sausage called Gamo and we asked what this was and the seller looked at us like we were mad and said it came from deer of course. We gave a lift there and back to one of the locals from the next village Puibolea. Cisto, who regaled us with his jokes, two of which I got and one that involved a mayor, a councillor and a priest I didn't. Later we had lunch with Rosa in her wonderful house with views across to the Pico de Gratal.

Finally, a bit out of date but I read, ARCHBISHOP NO ONE VOTED FOR FRIGHTENING COALITION POLICIES.Well that's what I thought it said.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

ME HE INTEGRADO

There is a lot of talk on the use of the word 'chav' these days and to be honest if you asked me what do I envisage on hearing this word I would have to say Prince Harry or even his mother Diana. It is however, a word used back in old Blighty to describe folk that make other people feel thank God they are not like  them, because unlike them, they have style, grace, decorum and less than two children I suppose. Which makes me wonder what kind of person would twitter that they are standing in a queue with chavs and having to listen to them witter on about Eastenders while they eat big buns. Are the cutbacks so severe that Lord Pollard or whatever her name is, has the bad luck of having to queue up like the rest of us.

Being one of those aunts who likes to take the offspring of others to the races and casinos while their parents are not looking I thought I'd better watch the Derby so as not to get too out of touch with the racing fraternity. My money was on Seville but I fancied a flutter on the Aga Khan's Vadamar and of course Carlton House but it was not to be and despite almost having a heart attack on a now damaged sofa, it was Por Moi, trained by a Frenchman  and ridden by a French boy who looked about thirteen. It was amazing and well done him. He stood up while still on the horse as he approached the finish line, with a confidence not seen since Usain Bolt's world record win. I haven't followed up the reaction in the British press, but I hope there isn't the sort of reaction you get when the English lose at football. All those 'what ifs' and feelings of being somehow cheated.

Last week I found myself having such a slanging match with the Spanish, the English and the Dutch that I thought I'd better have an evening more international so went out for dinner with H, and two Spanish  friends as one of them had just passed her German exam. We dined at the Juliana which is always a favourite. Later we decided to avoid the Rugaca and any other bars which might lead me to have a scrap with a Spaniard on the floor. Thankfully this didn't happen and no insults were hurled although I did find myself getting drawn into one of those 'discussions' with a Spanish man who insisted the gun on display was the very one used in the Dirty Harry films. As I left this bar I could just make out Sharon Stone's boots and boa she wore in Casino. Yes, another 'retro' bar has been added to the growing list of establishments who are hooked on this kind of debris. All over town you too can imagine you are in Ireland surounded by the sort of shit Irish people like to be besieged with just to remind themselves of who they are. As well as Ireland you can picture yourself pissed in another country and century even. In this latest bar Henderson was told that he could get a good gin and tonic. There was an array of gins on display but without looking he ordered a Gordon's. It was a bit like Monty Python's cheese shop when the barman said he was sorry but they didn't stock that one.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

HANGER ON A MINUTE

Today is the first of June and the first of many. The film festival starts on Friday and this is a good thing as for a brief time, young, fresh, innovative folk arrive from around the world breathing out a bit of international culture which is there to grasp or ignore, and hopefully breath in some of what's floating around here. I worked at the festival a couple of times and the bit I liked the most was meeting the film makers from other countries as well as the ones from Spain. For a while you are reminded that there is a world out there and a feeling of calm comes with it. The people I loved the most were a group of Brazilians who were just lovely and of course the short films that are shown are just wonderful and inspiring. The bit I didn't like was the freeloading aspect of it all with folk expecting to get it all free, the hotel, the fare to and from the festival, the free lunches or vouchers to spend in local restaurants, the list went on. Most of the young film makers were just chuffed to be invited and amazed their hotel was going to be paid for and also the chance their film might win. Others who often hadn't lifted a finger to make anything were there to eat their way through the festival. My hope is always with young people as they are so hopeful and prepared to work hard, well the creative ones who embrace life anyway. I have some pupils who love film and always ask me what films they should watch from the 'old days', stuff no one is going to tell them about. It's the same with music too. So much brilliant stuff has come and gone and they don't want to miss it. Having uncool parents is always going to make you work harder at finding out good music, films or books. There is so much 'stuff' out there that youngsters always like to be a bit more discerning and don't want to fall into the mainstream. The only thing nowadays is nobody seems to want to buy music or DVDs and everything is out there for free, although somebody is always paying.

Thank God for the young people protesting in the main squares too as their parents are too busy getting pissed in bars, smoking spliff and bemoaning that they lived under Franco so ergo missed out on just about every revolution going. It's like they are constantly making up for it or when Franco died everyone started partying like it was 1999 and  forgot to stop. Meanwhile they discovered handouts, early retirement, freebies, todo tren and like the dickhead ex-MEP on Newsnight t'other night, who thinks there is some justification for going on a 75,000 Euro bender in Amsterdam often argue 'you'd do the same' when in fact most of us wouldn't as there is nothing more uncool as a freeloading, food hoarding toady, especially one in a suit.

REAL DEAL

There have been a lot of articles in the Guardian on Spain as part of their meet the neighbours month or something like that. Some of them are quite good and make for interesting classes with the adults but they are quite often, for me anyway, an uninspired version of Spain, a version that doesn't really give the reader an insight into what it's really like living here. For that you have to be here a while, say five years at least, and just as London doesn't give you a clue to what the rest of Britain is like, to really experience Spain, you have to move off the beaten track, and there are a lot of unexplored places left. Whenever friends come to visit they often remark 'where the hell are we?' as they are transported through the vast countryside doted with small villages. Before we had Zaragoza airport, friends could take the slow train from Barcelona to a small village called Tardienta but that is out of the question now although I am told there is still a train once a day.There is always the bus from Barcelona, which thanks to the new motorway which is not quite finished, takes about three hours. The very slow train up to Canfranc would be vastly improved if the tunnel was reopened and there were trains again to France. It would be wonderful to travel back to England by train through this part of the Pyrenees

My friends mum in Galway often refers to England really as 'that Godless country', yet you can find lots of places in England that are spiritually nourishing often in that English obsession the garden, but I think it goes beyond that with a certain understanding between folk that you don't often see or appreciate till you leave and view it all from afar. In Spain people are religious or not. It isn't what I would describe as spiritual. There isn't any history or tradition of experimenting with different religions, philosophies, psychoanalisis or whatever choice there is for people to improve or enrich their lives. Occasionally I'll see an ad for Gestalt therapy or as I saw recently, an Indian guru whose face I last saw grinning from a poster in Bayswater. The majority of Spanish people don't know any Jews or Hindus or any religion really apart from Muslims and most Spanish people harbour some dislike for them. Bad feeling towards the Muslims and the Jews goes back centuries.

In fact, unlike other countries in Europe, they don't really know any foreigners unless they live in one of the big cities. If they do know a foreigner they will rarely get to know them very well as most people stick to their close friends and family so for outsiders, those de fuera, it is often difficult or unusual to make friends. One of my bosses, a Spaniard, agrees and tells me he didn't realise it at first but admits that when Spanish people say they are very open it is in fact not always true if we are talking about being open and friendly and welcoming you into their home. There are loads of small towns up and down the country but probably more so in abandoned, isolated regions like Aragon, where outsiders will never really integrate unless they marry a Spaniard. For the rest it is the inevitable tendency to graviate towards others from your country of origin or to hang out with Spanish singletons and everyone else on the fringes of society. So apart from the obvious which is nature, there are few places where you can seek solace and an enormous effort is required if you are to stay and make a life here. Not everyone wants to live in ex-pat communities where no one speaks Spanish or knows anything about Spanish culture apart from all the usual trite. There is a wealth of history, culture and nature that few foreigners get to see or feel.